Thanks to the warm, nurturing currents of the Gulf Stream, spring comes extra early in Cornwall. When the rest of the UK is still bare and frosty, bursts of daffodils and primroses appear as early as February on the South West Coast Path. For the best of the blooms – and to beat the crowds – get out there now and walk the 41km from Tintagel to Padstow.
Day one begins in Tintagel, where the remains of the 13th-century castle sit dramatically on the rugged coast. This is reputedly the birthplace of King Arthur, whose story is told at King Arthur’s Great Halls on Fore Street.
It is 22km to Port Isaac; to get there, head to the castle and follow the level cliff top, where tiny violets poke above the short grass. After an hour the path drops sharply to Trebarwith Strand; here you can watch the crashing Atlantic rollers with a cup of tea and a pasty at the Strand Café or the Port William.
After this, the going gets tougher. The path rises, drops and rises again to reach a gorse-clad cliff top. About an hour past Trebarwith Strand take a detour to secluded Tregardock Beach. This wild stretch of sand is one of the few Cornish beaches to have escaped the ice-cream vans.
Four deep valleys interrupt the flow of the cliffs on the way to Port Isaac. Here, cheerful primroses grow on the sunny sides of old stone-and-turf Cornish hedges. Head for the Port Gaverne Hotel for a pint of Doom Bar, a local ale. Neighbouring Port Isaac, a quintessential Cornish village of whitewashed cottages and narrow alleys, is a peaceful spot to spend the night.
Day two is less strenuous – Padstow is 19km away. Begin with the rollercoaster path to Port Quin, a tiny hamlet nestled around the cove of the same name. Beyond Trevan Point is a set of quiet sandy beaches and the impressive Lundy Hole, a collapsed cave hidden in the bushes. Take time out at Rumps Point, a rugged headland marked by a pair of low hillocks, where bluebells and primroses decorate the grassy slopes.
At Polzeath, the vast expanse of Padstow Bay comes into view. Polzeath is full of holiday homes and little else, so keep walking to Rock and catch the ferry to the charming seaside town of Padstow. The healthy fishing industry here explains the plethora of seafood restaurants.
Now, put your feet up and indulge – you’ve earned it.
Jim Manthorpe is co-author of Trailblazer’s Cornwall Coast Path (2006)
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